Saturday, 17 April 2021

Friday, 16 April 2021


Haruki Murakami's new book of short stories, First Person Singular, is our Book of the Week this week. All told in the first person by a classic Murakami narrator, these stories challenge the boundaries between our minds and the exterior world. Occasionally, a narrator may or may not be Murakami himself.
>>Eight ways of looking at Murakami. 
>>All sorts of experiences. 
>>Five Japanese authors share their favourite Murakami stories
>>Underground worlds
>>Who you're reading when you're reading Murakami. 
>>"You have to go through darkness before you get to the light.
>>On following Murakami's writing and running regime for a week
>>Your copy
>>Other books by Murakami


>> Read all Stella's reviews.


She-Merchants, Buccaneers and Gentlewomen: British women in India, 1600—1900 by Katie Hickman     {Reviewed by STELLA}
There have been plenty of histories about the British in India, but Katie Hickman’s She-Merchants, Buccaneers & Gentlewomen takes a slightly different tack. It starts earlier (the focus being the late 1700s and the first half of the nineteenth century), with the very first few women to venture forth on the long and perilous sea journey. Some were accompanying husbands, others were mistresses of recalcitrant aristocrats, and yet others, women of daring, saw an opportunity in trade in the early days of the East India Company. It also has a female focus, drawing on the letters, diaries and reminiscences of these women. While Hickman does mention the orphans and lower-class women sent to bolster the female numbers in this male-centric military society, the records are few and far between for these less literate classes. So, aside from the past prostitutes/mistresses (many of whom were mixing with the upper classes and as such knew the benefits of brushing up on their letters) now posing as gentlewomen, our stories are firmly fixed in the middle classes and gentry categories. As with many colonial histories, it is the early years that seem more flexible, with marriages of military soldiers (although most often the Indian wives were abandoned, usually with their children, when their supposed husbands left) and officers to Indian women and a few British women in relationships with local men. Not surprisingly this was not necessarily what society back home wished for. A policy was employed to encourage more women, ostensibly to become wives to the increasing number of British troops and civil servants, to travel to India as colonisation ramped up. Hickman sticks with the accounts of daily life, the routines of British society increasingly transplanted (even when they were nonsensical), and the long overland journeys that many women made—some following their military husbands when they were sent to a new posting; others venturing out alone (with servants and the occasional lover), wishing to escape their husbands and the confines of  British society. The accounts of great entourages (hundreds of animals—elephants, horses—and thousands of people—servants and soldiers) larger than many of the villages they passed by seems strange now, but was a reality of the aristocratic travellers making their mark on this place. Power and pomp. Hickman recounts the 1875 uprising near the end of her book, signposting the reasons it happened obliquely, rather than head-on, laying out the attitudes of the women through their letters, comments and memoirs. The viewpoint of the rebellion is clearly from the women who were hunkered down in (often inadequate) fortresses under great distress or who narrowly escaped death. Yet it is here that you clearly see the sticky problem—while these women as individuals were diverse in their attitudes, social positions and enlightenment (or not), some of them admirable (many not), they were nevertheless all part of the wider project of colonisation. She-Merchants, Buccaneers & Gentlewomen is a fascinating look at the individual accounts of women—there are plenty of intriguing tales, both troublesome and diverting—who ventured to India in this period, but it will raise more questions about the role of these women and the imprint they may have left than are answered here. 


 >> Read all Thomas's reviews. 


Motherhood by Sheila Heti  {Reviewed by THOMAS}

Is flipping coins to determine answers to questions posed by the flipper of the coins a good way to guide your life?
Is flipping coins to determine answers to questions posed by the flipper of the coins a good way to write a book?
But isn’t this book, Motherhood, which has been written by flipping coins to determine the answers to questions posed by the flipper of the coins, in this case Sheila Heti, the author of the book, a good book?
Is Motherhood a good book, then, because it was written by Sheila Heti rather than because it was written by flipping coins?
When Sheila—the Sheila who is a character in the book, which the reader is permitted to assume is the same person (whatever that means) as Sheila Heti the author of the book— says, “I don’t think I have a heart—a heart I can consult. Instead, I have these coins,” is that a good way for either the character in the book or the author of the book to proceed?
Is flipping coins to determine the answers to questions posed by the flipper of the coins a good way to write a review of a book that has been written by flipping coins to determine the answers to questions posed by the author?
If I wrote a review in such a way, would I be able to do it without cheating, in other words, without only pretending that I had flipped coins when I had not actually flipped coins at all, or flipping the coins but then overriding the outcomes of those coins if they did not suit me?
Would it be better if I didn’t waste time looking for coins to flip, then?
And Sheila Heti, can I be sure that she didn’t cheat when writing a book by flipping coins to determine the answers to questions she posed?
Does this matter?
In fact, might this not be a good way to compose a novel or somesuch, or find a way out of writer’s block, whatever that is, or determine a way out of any predicament, at least any fictional predicament, given that predicaments usually arise from the presence of binaries—either A or not-A, for example—and so seem to clamour for a resolution that can be expressed in a binary way?
Just as writing conversation can be a good way to find a way out of writer’s block, whatever that is, even writer’s block visited upon the writing of a book review?
Even if one side of the conversation says only either yes or no?
Are the results I might achieve this way satisfactory?
Would the results be satisfactory with a different approach?
Is any of this useful in so-called real life?
But doesn’t Sheila Heti apply this approach to the real-life question—if we accept that the Sheila of the book corresponds to the real-life Sheila, the book’s author—of whether or not she wants to or should have a child, or become a mother, which may or may not imply having a child, depending on how subtly the concept of motherhood is understood or defined?
So this approach is not useful?
You mean it is useful?
Can you explain that?
Can Sheila Heti explain that?
Does she do so in this passage, when she consults her coins?
   “Is any of the above true?
   Is there any use in any of this, if none of it is true?
   Even if you said yes, it wouldn’t matter. You don’t mean anything to me. You don’t know the future, and you don’t know anything about my life, or what I should be doing. You are complete randomness, without meaning. [However] you have shown me some good things, but that is just me picking up the good in all the nothing you have shown me.”
As Sheila approaches forty she suffers from ambivalence about whether or not to have a child before it is ‘too late’. She can’t seem to disentangle what might be the expectations of her by others because she is a woman from what might be her biological inclinations as a woman, not that this concept necessarily has any validity, and from her own personal expectations and inclinations. Is it even possible to disentangle these things?
Would it be true to say that the more you think about things in these terms the less sense these terms make?
Is there any point in thinking about things in these terms?
Unless, perhaps, it is useful to get to the point at which these terms make no sense?
Does Sheila obsess over the question of whether or not to have a child as a way of relieving herself of the question of whether or not to have a child?
A way of avoiding having a child, even?
Saying yes to having a child would remove the uncertainty of whether or not to have a child and the uncertainty could not be regained, at least not in that form, but saying no merely provides the opportunity for the uncertainty to resurge at the next possible moment for it to be considered. Prevarication is, therefore, such a tiring prophylactic. Is the book to some extent somehow about the deep problems of decision-making, in whatever sphere of life, about whether we can disentangle the force of what we might call ‘will’ from the force of what we might, for want of a better word, call ‘fate’ (‘determinism’ is probably a better word)?
When Sheila says, “Sometimes I am convinced that a child will add depth to all things—just bring a background of depth and meaning to whatever it is I do. I also think I might have brain cancer. There’s something I can feel in my brain, like a finger pressing down,” is her problem really about depth and meaning rather than about having a child?
Sheila says, “This will be a book to prevent future tears.” Is this book, Motherhood, perhaps more about depression—Sheila’s, her mother’s, perhaps the reader’s—than it is about motherhood per se?
Sheila says, “I am a blight on my own life.” She says, “Nothing harms the earth more than another person—and nothing harms a person more than being born.” She says, thinking of her decision to be a writer and all the time she has consequently spent arranging commas, “When I was younger, writing felt like more than enough, but now I feel like a drug addict, like I’m missing out on life.” Is there a sense in which writing and ‘living’ are incompatible modes of existence?
When Sheila states that resisting urges has previously led her to more interesting places, is it useful for her to think about resisting the urge to have a child—wherever that urge originates—as a way of bringing depth and meaning to her life?
Does she in fact find more depth and meaning by resisting the urge to have a child?
Does this depth and meaning, or at least the finding of more depth and meaning if not the depth and meaning themselves, have some sort of tangible expression?
This book?
Early in the book, Heti identifies her struggles with the mythic struggles of Jacob wrestling with and withstanding the unknown being “until the breaking of the day,” and she concludes the book an altered quote from the Torah: “Then I named this wrestling-place Motherhood, for here is where I saw God face-to-face, and yet my life was spared.” Is that a satisfactory way to end the book?
Is that a satisfactory way to end my review?
Should I go on?


First Person Singular by Haruki Murakami            $45
The eight stories in this new book are all told in the first person by a classic Murakami narrator. From memories of youth, meditations on music, and an ardent love of baseball, to dreamlike scenarios and invented jazz albums, together these stories challenge the boundaries between our minds and the exterior world. Occasionally, a narrator may or may not be Murakami himself.
>>Eight ways of looking at Haruki Murakami
The Things We've Seen by Agustín Fernández Mallo        $40
A novrl in three parts, The Things We've Seen is a dazzling and anarchic exploration of social relations which offers thought-provoking ideas on our perceptions of humanity, history, violence, art and science. The first part follows a writer who travels to the small, uninhabited island of San Simon, where he witnesses events which impel him on a journey across several continents, chasing the phantoms of nameless people devastated by violence. The second book is narrated by Kurt, the fourth astronaut who secretly accompanied Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins on their mythical first voyage to the moon. Now living in Miami, an ageing Kurt revisits the important chapters of his life: from serving in the Vietnam War to his memory of seeing earth from space. In the third part, a woman embarks on a walking tour of the Normandy coast with the goal of re-enacting, step by step, the memory of another trip taken years before. On her journey along the rugged coastline, she comes across a number of locals, but also thousands of refugees newly arrived on Europe's shores, whose stories she follows on the TV in her lodgings.
"There are certain writers whose work you turn to knowing you’ll find extraordinary things there. Borges is one of them, Bolaño another. Agustín Fernández Mallo has become one, too. This novel, which ranges across the world and beyond it, is hugely ambitious in scope. It’s a weird, recursive, paranoiac, funny, menacing and thrilling book." —Chris Power
>>A trick mirror held up to history. 
>>The B-side of war
>>Read an extract. 
More Favourable Waters: Aotearoa poets respond to Dante's Purgatory edited by Marco Sonzogni and Timothy Smith          $25
Each of the 33 poets has written a poem of 33 lines inspired by and including a short passage from one of the 33 cantos of Dante's Purgatory, for the 700th anniversary of his death. Airini Beautrais, Marisa Cappetta, Kay McKenzie Cooke, Mary Cresswell, Majella Cullinane, Sam Duckor-Jones, Nicola Easthope, David Eggleton, Michael Fitzsimons, Janis Freegard, Anahera Gildea, Michael Harlow, Jeffrey Paparoa Holman, Anna Jackson, Andrew Johnston, Tim Jones, Elizabeth Kirkby-McLeod, Hugh Lauder, Vana Manasiadis, Mary McCallum, Elizabeth Morton, Kōtuku Titihuia Nuttall, Vincent O’Sullivan, Robin Peace, Helen Rickerby, Reihana Robinson, Robert Sullivan, Steven Toussaint, Jamie Trower, Tim Upperton, Sophie van Waardenberg, Bryan Walpert, Sue Wootton.
Consent by Vanessa Springora              $35
Thirty years ago, Vanessa Springora was the teenage muse of one of France's most celebrated writers, a footnote in the narrative of an influential man. At the end of 2019, as women around the world began to speak out, Springora, now in her forties and the director of one of France's leading publishing houses, decided to reclaim her own story. Devastating in its honesty, Springora's memoir lays bare the cultural attitudes and circumstances that made it possible for a thirteen-year-old girl to become involved with a fifty-year-old man. Drawing parallels between children's fairy tales, French history and the author's personal life, Consent offers insights into the meaning of love and consent, the toll of trauma and the power of healing in women's lives.
>>On the limits of sexual freedom. 
>>Breaking news: France changes its laws. 
Fake Accounts by Lauren Oyler         $33
A woman in a post-election tailspin discovers that her boyfriend is an anonymous online conspiracy theorist in this provocative and subversive novel that examines social media, sex, feminism, and fiction, the connection they've all promised, and the lies they help us tell. 
"Fake Accounts is a novel about the enigmatical spectacle of our extremely online world that is itself both enigmatic and spectacular – a dark comedy about a dark time, and a prismatically intelligent work of art. Brilliant." —Guardian
Double Blind by Edward St Aubyn            $37
An unsparing yet curiously sympathetic novel of ideas, brain science, love, capital and rewilding from the author of the remarkable 'Patrick Melrose' novels. 
"More humorous but just as intellectually inclined as Richard Powers and David Mitchell, among other contemporaries, St. Aubyn explores human foibles even as he brilliantly takes up headier issues of the human brain in sickness and in health. A thought-provoking, smartly told story that brings philosophy, medicine, and neuroscience into boardroom and bedroom." —Kirkus

Burst Kisses on the Actual Wind by Courtney Sina Meredith               $30
A beautifully presented collection of surprising and shifting poems, focused on connection and displacement, the blurring between internal landscapes and longed-for realities.
"Courtney Sina Meredith is one of New Zealand's most talented and influential authors. Burst Kisses On The Actual Wind will find an eager audience." —Paula Morris. 
"Courtney Sina Meredith has grown a distinctive voice. Her arrangements are formally inventive. She surprises in ways that writers ought to." —Lloyd Jones
Wretchedness by Andrzej Tichý         $35
Malmö, Sweden. A cellist meets a spun-out junkie. That could have been me. His mind starts to glitch between his memories and the avant-garde music he loves, and he descends into his past, hearing all over again the chaotic song of his youth. He emerges to a different sound, heading for a crash. From sprawling housing projects to underground clubs and squat parties, Wretchedness is a blistering trip through the underbelly of Europe's cities.

Quantum of Dante edited by Marco Sonzogni          $40
Limited, numbered edition. 
"In order to transform a work into a cult object, you must be able to take it to pieces, disassemble it, and unhinge it in such a way that only parts of it are remembered, regardless of their original relationship with the whole." — Umberto Eco
A typographical intervention in Dante's text, with illustration by Art Sang and book design by Sally Greer, reveals an entomological dimension to the work while leaving the text both entirely unchanged and strangely transformed. 

Hot Stew by Fiona Mozley             $35
Pungent, steamy, insatiable Soho; the only part of London that truly never sleeps. Tourists dawdling, chancers skulking, addicts shuffling, sex workers strutting, punters prowling, businessmen striding, the homeless and the lost. Down Wardour Street, ducking onto Dean Street, sweeping into L'Escargot, darting down quiet back alleyways, skirting dumpsters and drunks, emerging on to raucous main roads, fizzing with energy and riotous with life. On a corner, sits a large townhouse, the same as all its neighbours. But this building hosts a teeming throng of rich and poor, full from the basement right up to the roof terrace. Precious and Tabitha call the top floors their home but it's under threat; its billionaire-owner Agatha wants to kick the women out to build expensive restaurants and luxury flats. Men like Robert, who visit the brothel, will have to go elsewhere. Those like Cheryl, who sleep in the basement, will have to find somewhere else to hide after dark. But the women won't go quietly. Soho is their turf and they are ready for a fight.
"Hot Stew is expansive and ribald where Elmet, set in rural Yorkshire, was claustrophobic and restrained. It’s ambitious, clever, brilliant and very funny. It shows what happens when an author, rather than letting expectations weigh upon her, uses them to catapult her writing to a whole new plane." —Guardian
How to Be Animal: A new history of what it means to be human by Melanie Challenger           $33
Humans are the most inquisitive, emotional, imaginative, aggressive and baffling animals on the planet. But how well do we really know ourselves? How to Be Animal writes a remarkable story of what it means to be human and argues that at the heart of our psychology is a profound struggle with being animal. As well as piecing together the mystery of how this psychology evolved, the book examines the wide-reaching ways in which it affects our lives, from our politics to the ways we distance ourselves from other species.
“Melanie Challenger’s wonderful book teaches me this: our blazing continuity with the depth of time and the whole of life. It is a huge, complex and triumphant thing: challenging, but also celebratory, courageous, mournful and apprehensive. Her language is lovely: exact and lyrical and sparklingly full of suggestion and implication. It is a hymn to generosity. I know it will be something I will return to again and again.” —Adam Nicholson
>>How to be a trailer
Breaking Things at Work: Why the Luddites were right about why you hate your job by Gavin Mueller            $33
In the nineteenth century, English textile workers responded to the introduction of new technologies on the factory floor by smashing them to bits. For years the Luddites roamed the English countryside, practicing drills and manoeuvres that they would later deploy on unsuspecting machines. The movement has been derided by scholars as a backwards-looking and ultimately ineffectual effort to stem the march of history; for Gavin Mueller, the movement gets at the heart of the antagonistic relationship between all workers, including us today, and the so-called progressive gains secured by new technologies. Breaking Things at Work is a rethinking of labour and machines, leaping from textile mills to algorithms, from existentially threatened knife cutters of rural Germany to surveillance-evading truckers driving across the continental United States. Mueller argues that the future stability and empowerment of working-class movements will depend on subverting these technologies and preventing their spread wherever possible. 
In the Land of the Cyclops: Essays by Karl Ove Knausgaard           $48
Essays ranging from intensely personal readings of literature, philosophy and art, to the limits on privacy, how we view ourselves and the world, and how our daily and creative lives intertwine.

The Trouble with Being Born by E.M. Cioran           $24
"Not to be born is undoubtedly the best plan of all. Unfortunately it is within no one's reach." Cioran is the philosopher of personal and collective frailty and failure, of emptiness, of hopelessness, of the eschewing of all answers (“Having resisted the temptation to conclude, I have overcome the mind.”). He rails against society, against both choice and necessity, against all values. Cioran is an important, interesting (and frequently amusing) thinker, an heir to Nietzsche, and there is much to admire (and be amused by) in his books. His words dissolve civilisation as acetone dissolves paint (that’s got to be a good thing).
Chris Potter was born in Hong Kong just prior to the 1941 Japanese invasion and spent most of his first four years in Stanley Internment Camp before being repatriated to England and then emigrating to New Zealand in 1948. This illustrated book springs from his mother's journals and letters, and outlines also her ongoing activity opposing nationalism and racism and promoting women's rights and international co-operation.

The Who's Who of Grown-Ups by Owen Davey            $50
What does a soccer player or surfer actually need? What is the robe of the samurai called and what is the archaeologist packing next to her for her next expedition? What occupations and hobbies do adults have and what do they need? With this large-format picture book, small readers get to know different professions and leisure activities and the necessary objects. From clothing to accessories to work tools, Owen Davey uses graphic illustrations to present a wide range of leisure activities and professions. This large-format book simplifies and explains what you need for it.

Wild Seas to Greenland by Rebecca Hayter           $40
Hayter's gripping account of four months spent voyaging into the Arctic Circle with 1994 Whitbread Round the World Race winner Ross Field. 
>>"Just tell me I'm not going to die!"
The Pattern Seekers: A new theory of human invention by Simon Baron-Cohen           $48
Why can humans alone invent? In this book, psychologist and renowned autism expert Simon Baron-Cohen puts forward a bold new theory: because we can identify patterns, specifically if-and-then patterns. And he argues that the genes for this unique ability overlap with the genes for autism. From the first musical instrument to the agricultural, industrial and digital revolutions, Baron-Cohen shows how this unique ability has driven human progress for 70,000 years. By linking one of our greatest human strengths with a condition that is so often misunderstood, The Pattern Seekers challenges us to think differently about those who think differently.

City Monster by Reza Farazmand             $40
A graphic novel set in a world of rather ordinary supernatural creatures, following a young monster who moves to the city. As he struggles to figure out his future, his new life is interrupted by questions about his mysterious roommate—a ghost who can't remember the past. Joined by their neighbor, a centuries-old vampire named Kim, they explore the city, meeting a series of strange and spooky characters and looking for answers about life, memories, and where to get a good beer.
>>Poorly Drawn Lines.

Friday, 9 April 2021

 BOOKS @ VOLUME #224 (9.4.21)

For new books and book news, read our latest newsletter. 


>> Read all Stella's reviews.


A Burning by Megha Majumdar    {Reviewed by STELLA}
Writing a comment on Facebook could land you in a whole heap of trouble. Particularly if you are young, Muslim, female, and poor. Jivan lives in the slums of Kolkata. She’s been lucky: attended school as a charity case, passed her year 10 exams (just) and now has a job in a department store. Saving up her meagre wages, she has just got herself a shiny new phone. When a shocking incident happens at the train station near her home, she is horrified not only by the actions of the terrorists but also by the inaction of the police. It is her criticism of the police on the social media platform and the subsequent reactions from others that cause the perfect storm. A storm that puts her firmly in the view of the authorities. Arrested as an accomplice on the flimsiest of grounds, Jivan finds herself in a precarious position attempting to prove her innocence. With a public braying for someone to blame, the police wanting a criminal, and a political election in the midst of it all, the situation easily escalates. Jivan’s hopes lie with the testimonies of two people. PT Sir, her former PE teacher at the girl’s school, and Lovely, a hijra, who she had been teaching English. These character references could make a difference and get her out from behind bars. Yet, as you can imagine, Megha Majumdar’s debut novel, won’t let Jivan off the hook so easily, nor release PT Sir and Lovely, each of whom have their own issues to deal with, from some difficult dilemmas. This is a story of injustice, corruption, kickbacks, political expediency, and social positioning told with a forcefulness (not surprisingly, Majumdar’s novel has been met with both praise and criticism in India) and an observant eye. It’s emotionally charged, as well as subtly wry. The small descriptive moments carry weight without being heavy. The stories of the three main characters in this moral tale are all compelling and the interplay between the perspectives keeps you engaged in all, not just one of them. From Jivan’s experience in jail and with her lawyer and her internal hopes and disappointments to Lovely’s dream to be an actress, her ‘family’ of friends as they navigate begging on the street, entertaining and blessing newborns or the newly wed for a small fee, to PT Sir’s ambition for a sense of importance (to be noticed) and a better life, we are given a microcosmic view of the dilemmas, ironies and inequalities of this city with its class systems, extreme poverty, rising middle class, cultural complexities and political machinations. With comparisons to Jhumpa Lahiri and Yaa Gyasi in reviews, A Burning is a worthy contender for the praise. It also brought to mind Kamila Shamsie’s Home Fire in style and content. Powerful and unsettling. 


 >> Read all Thomas's reviews. 


The Cemetery at Barnes by Gabriel Josipovici   {Reviewed by THOMAS}
Meaning, in literature as in life, is to be found in its form rather than in its content. This subtly disconcerting novella, told almost entirely in the habitual past tense (“he would”, “he used to”), portrays how memory works as an endlessly repeated palimpsest, constantly erasing and overwriting the impress of actual events, at the same time and by the same procedure both providing and preventing access to the past. The tension between what is erased and what cannot be erased intensifies through the novella, which assembles its layers of narration as if gleaned from conversation by a guest in the house in Wales of a translator and his wife, but somehow at the same time providing access to the private thoughts and self-narratives of the translator. Josipovici’s lightness and fluidity moving between speech, reported speech and thought, and his remarkable ability to encompass many versions of a story in one text, is alluded to by the translator as we learn of his fantasies of drowning himself in the Seine after he moved to Paris following the death of his first wife: “He knew such feelings were neurotic, dangerous even, but he was not unduly worried, sensing that it was better to indulge them than to try and eliminate them altogether. After all, everyone has fantasies. In the one life there are many lives. Alternative lives. Some are lived and others imagined. That is the absurdity of biographies, he would say, of novels. They never take account of the alternative lives casting their shadows over us as we move slowly, as though in a dream, from birth to maturity to death.” It is the death of the translator’s first wife that the text constantly attempts to avoid but toward which it is constantly pulled. The translator takes refuge in the stories of others to provide relief from his own. “It was only when the meaning of what he was translating began to seep through to him, he said, that he found it difficult.” After her death he moves from London to Paris, experiences detachment and detachment from detachment. “Sometimes, as he was walking through the Parisian streets, he would suddenly be seized with the feeling that he was not there, that all this was still in the future or else in the distant past. He would examine this feeling with detachment, as if it belonged to someone else, and then walk on.” Some experiences leave a wound, however, that is not easily erased, or which one is too attached to to erase, such as the wound on the thigh the narrator receives during an encounter with a young woman in a beret about whom little else has been retained. “We’ve all got something like that somewhere on our bodies. Maybe if we got rid of it we wouldn’t be ourselves any more.” Moments of the past sit with specific sharpness in the generalisation of the habitual past tense narration which seeks but fails to erase them, to keep the narrator functioning at the cost of the events makes him himself. “Listen to him, [his second wife] would say. He never sticks to the subject but always manages to generalise. It’s another way of avoiding life.” But the unspeakable pulls so hard upon the narrative that does not speak of it that that narrative becomes patterned entirely by that which it does not represent. “There are times when the order you have so carefully established seems suddenly unable to protect you from the darkness.” The unassimilable specifics of the circumstances of his first wife’s death start to show through, and our suspicions are both intensified and undermined by the means by which we form them. We are left, as is the translator, in the words of a poem by du Bellay that he translates, “at the mercy of the winds, / Sitting at the tiller in a ship full of holes.”


Devil's Trumpet by Tracey Slaughter          $30
When the stars were rhinestones. When your car was a blue Holden god. When kisses spread to your back teeth, marathons of sucking. When we pashed through jokes, through tunes, through homework, through the leftovers we shovelled out our schoolbags. When you let me tattoo you with talk. Thirty-one new stories from the author of Deleted Scenes for Lovers.
"If Slaughter is writing from the black block in her chest, she is also speaking directly into yours." —Charlotte Graham-McLay
On the Line: Notes from a factory by Joseph Ponthus            $35
Factory you shall never have my soul
I am here
And I count for so much more than you
And I count so much more because of you
Thanks to you
Unable to find work in his field, Joseph Ponthus enlists with a temp agency and starts to pick up casual shifts in the fish processing plants and abattoirs of Brittany. Day after day he records with infinite precision the nature of work on the production line—the noise, the weariness, the dreams stolen by the repetitive nature of exhausting rituals and physical suffering. But he finds solace in a life previously lived. Shelling prawns, he dreams of Alexandre Dumas. Pushing cattle carcasses, he recalls Apollinaire. And, in the grace of the blank spaces created by his insistent return to a new line of text—mirroring his continued return to the production line—we discover the woman he loves, the happiness of a Sunday, Pok Pok the dog, the smell of the sea. A poet's ode to manual labour, and to the human spirit that makes it bearable.
The Back of the Painting: Secrets and stories from art conservation by Linda Waters, Sarah Hillary and Jenny Sherman          $45
Behind the scenes with the experts on famous paintings. The seal of the Prince of Yugoslavia, the icon that protected persecuted Russians, Monets repurposed canvas, the excised first wife, the stolen Tissot—all these stories can be found on the backs of paintings in New Zealand art museums. This fascinating book by three painting conservators explores the backs of 33 paintings, ranging from 15th century artworks to the present day, from Claude Lorrain to Ralph Hotere, and held in the collections of the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, the Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki and the Dunedin Public Art Gallery. Join them on their art-detective explorations. Fascinating. 
A Children's Bible by Lydia Millet              $45
A group of twelve eerily mature children endure a forced vacation with their families at a sprawling lakeside mansion. Contemptuous of their parents, who pass their days in a stupor of liquor, drugs, and sex, the children feel neglected and suffocated at the same time. When a destructive storm descends on the summer estate, the group's ringleaders—including Eve, who narrates the story—decide to run away, leading the younger ones on a dangerous foray into the apocalyptic chaos outside. As the scenes of devastation begin to mimic events in the dog-eared picture Bible carried around by her beloved little brother, Eve devotes herself to keeping him safe from harm.
"A blistering classic. Millet writes brilliantly about everything — politics, physics, mermaids — and she’s one of the leading writers of environmental fiction. Millet addresses the existential crisis of climate change with a technical understanding of the science and a humane understanding of the heart. She’s also ferociously witty. That rare combination has made her stories about species extinction and global warming profound and weirdly amusing." —The Washington Post
From relics of Georgian empire-building and slave-trading, through Victorian London's barged-out refuse to 1980s fly-tipping and the pervasiveness of present-day plastics, Rag and Bone traces the story of our rubbish, and, through it, our history of consumption. In a series of beachcombing and mudlarking walks—beginning in the Thames in central London, then out to the Kentish estuary and eventually the sea around Cornwall—Lisa Woollett also tells the story of her family, a number of whom made their living from London's waste, and who made a similar journey downriver from the centre of the city to the sea. Nicely written.

How to Live with Mammals by Ash Davida Jane           $25
we love an underdog especially when it’s a whale
we see ourselves in them literally in them lounging
in their cathedral of a mouth just looking for love
All around us, life is both teeming and vanishing. How do we live in this place of so many others and so many last things? How to Live With Mammals is not a book of instruction but a book of reimagining and a book of longing. In these poems, Ash Davida Jane asks how we might reorient ourselves, and our ways of loving one another, as the futures that we once imagined grow ever more precarious.
"Urgent, funny and tender: these poems shine." —Louise Wallace
A History of Bombing by Sven Lindqvist           $44
On November 1, 1911, over the North African oasis Tagiura, Lieutenant Giulio Cavotti leaned out of the cockpit of his primitive aircraft and dropped a Haasen hand grenade. Thus began one of the most devastating military tactics of the twentieth century: aerial bombing. With this point of entry, Sven Lindqvist, the author of the acclaimed Exterminate All the Brutes, tells the fascinating stories behind the development of air power, bombs, and the laws of war and international justice, demonstrating how the practices of the two world wars were born from colonial warfare.

The Calling by Fleur Beale           $20
A YA novel about finding your calling, the extraordinary nun Mother Mary Joseph Aubert, and the realities of religious bigotry in late-nineteenth century New Zealand.
"One of the most consistently accomplished and versatile writers for teenagers in the country." —The New Zealand Listener

Rita Angus: An artist's life by Jill Trevelyan        $60
A revised edition of Trevelyan's consummate illustrated biography. 
Life Savers: A day in the lives of 12 real-life emergency service workers by Eryl Nash and Ana Albero           $33
Leonie the Fire Fighter from the UK, Ahsan the Surgeon from Pakistan, Fabien the Mountain Rescuer from France, Tamika the Veterinarian from the US, Nick the Police Officer from the UK, Cecilia the Nurse from Spain, Koen the Lifeguard from the Netherlands, Jin the Research Scientist from China, David-Lawrence the Paramedic from Switzerland, Johanne the Counsellor from Germany, Andy the Flying Doctor from Australia, Giovanna the Foreign Aid Worker from Italy. Lots of visual appeal and interest. 

It remains the most audacious spy plot in American history—an operation to invade Russia, defeat the Red Army, and mount a coup in Moscow against Lenin. After that, leaders in Washington, Paris, and London aimed to install their own Allied-friendly dictator in Moscow as a means to get Russia back into the the First World War against Germany. The Lenin Plot had the "entire approval" of President Woodrow Wilson. As he ordered a military invasion of Russia, he gave the American ambassador, the U.S. Consul General in Moscow, and other State Department operatives a free hand to pursue their covert action against Lenin. The result was thousands of deaths, both military and civilian, on both sides. Why don't we know more about this?
Our First Foreign War: The impact of the South African War 1899—1902 on New Zealand by Nigel Robson           $55
When war broke out between the British Empire and the Boer republics in 1899, New Zealand was among Britain's most enthusiastic supporters. The South African War was a chance for New Zealand to prove its military capabilities and loyalty to the Empire. There was a huge surge in nationalist feeling and intense interest in the fortunes of the imperial forces. Mafeking, Kimberley and Ladysmith became household names. Fundraising events were packed, and as men enlisted in contingents and Volunteer corps, women and children joined patriotic groups and cadet corps. This is the first book to examine in detail the enduring impact of the country's first overseas war.


 Book of the Week. If you did or if you didn't hear Richie Poulton speak this week at the book launch at the Nelson Provincial Museum, you will be fascinated by the book, The Origins of You: How childhood shapes later life by Poulton, Jay Belsky,  Avshalom Caspi and Terrie E. Moffitt. The book explicates for both a general and a specialist readership findings from The Dunedin Study, the world's foremost longitudinal study of human behaviour and social development, which has been running for five decades. 
>>We are offering the book at a special price of $95 (RRP $106)
>>Looking through the lens of 1000 lives
>>Find out more about The Dunedin Study
>>How do childhood traits affect adult circumstances? 
>>The Nelson Provincial Museum's current exhibition Slice of Life highlights the significance of The Dunedin Study. 
>>The findings of the study are also explored in the television series Why Am I?
>>Your copy

Thursday, 1 April 2021

 BOOKS @ VOLUME #223 (1.4.21)

Book news! New Books! Read our newsletter. 


>> Read all Stella's reviews.


Flavour by Yotam Ottolenghi and Ixta Belphrage    {Reviewed by STELLA}
Just when you think you have enough Ottolenghi books you are proven incorrect. Last year, as a result of some housekeeping and rearranging at home, the cookbooks ended up on their own bank of shelves in the kitchen rather than scattered between several shelves throughout the house. Result—a good collection of Ottolenghi cookbooks. The most well-used—the excellent Plenty and Plenty More. That combination of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern with a splash of other cuisine influences seems to suit my style of cooking, vegetable preferences and taste buds. The recipes place ingredients with each other in ways I had previously not considered. So when Flavour turned up last year, I really did have to question another Ottolenghi. But this one, another focused on vegetables, feels quite different from the previous books. Produced in concert with chef Ixta Belfrage, it plays with combinations of spices, herbs and those all-important salts, acids and heat in exciting and accessible ways. There’s plenty of text and asides from the recipes to keep the thinking cook happy, but again the focus is on the recipes. There is more Asian influence here, with soy and miso featuring, but the core remains Ottolenghi’s favourite Middle Eastern participants. A few new spices are featuring in our kitchen cupboard—harissa has become a constant on the shopping list. There’s plenty to enjoy here. The Aubergine Dumplings Alla Parmiginia tasted as good as they looked. They reminded me of the softness and full flavour of my father’s Greek-influenced meatballs (I don’t eat the meat any more, so aubergine is a great substitute). The Bkeila, Potato and Butter Bean Stew is delicious and super comfort food with a tang! The cooking down of the spinach into its concentrated form is quite remarkable and one would think unappealing. Absolutely not. And the tangy lemon and spice mix makes this recipe a wonder. The Portobello Steaks and Butter Bean Mash—just delicious, retaining all that is delightful about mushrooms with very tasty spices and olive oil all layered over the calming bean mash. Perfect for brunch or a late evening meal when you’ve had a busy day. And what if you get given a cabbage or two—not the most exciting vegetable (apologies to cabbage-lovers)? Cabbage with Ginger Cream and Numbing Oil, of course! This is perfectly cooked cabbage with lashings of cream cheese (gingered) and that Numbing Oil—wow!—chilli, ginger, star anise and more chilli. Scoop it up and enjoy. And this I think is the rationale of Flavour. It’s fulsome and enjoyable—all about sharing food together and exploring with your taste buds. And coming later this year is a new Ottolenghi. Test Kitchen will take you on a journey through your kitchen cupboards, celebrating humble ingredients and embracing the concept of flexible cooking. You can order this now. In the meantime, explore the Ottolenghi choices on our shelves (or due back in soon). 


 >> Read all Thomas's reviews. 


This Little Art by Kate Briggs     {Reviewed by THOMAS}
A translator interposes themselves invisibly (or quasi-invisibly (invisible by convention)) between the author of a text, for whom the translator stands in the position of a reader, and the reader of that text, for whom the translator stands in the position of the author. The translator negotiates the text on behalf of a reader whose language is not that of the author, and adds, for the eventual reader, another layer in the suspension of disbelief in their willingness to accept that the words of the translator *are* the words of the author while at the same time acknowledging that they are entirely different words in a different language. To translate, in the words of Kate Briggs in her fine, thoughtful work on translation, “complicates the authorial position, sharing it, usurping it, sort of dislocating it.” Although the translator aspires to invisibility as a remaker of text, translators are not, and should not be considered as, by themselves or by others, “neutral, impersonal transferring devices.” The remaking of text in the person of the translator refracts both in their capacities as a reader and as a writer. “I read with my body,” says Briggs. “I read and move to translate with my body, and my body is not the same as yours. Translation is a responsive and appropriative practising of an extant work at the level of the sentence, working it out, a work-out on the basis of the desired work whose energy source is the inclusion of the new and different vitality that comes with and from me.” Translation is the most intimate possible relationship between two persons, though one of those persons may well be unaware of this intimacy. The translator assumes responsibility not only for the words and intentions of the author, but also for their identity as an author, at least in so far as the readers in the host language are concerned. The translator *becomes* the author for those readers. Or, rather, translation is the most intimate possible relationship between three people, for the willingness of a reader to allow the subsuming of their awareness by the author is replicated in the translator-as-reader who must concurrently become the translator-as-author for the host language reader. Briggs describes the relationship she has with Roland Barthes, whose ‘Le Préparation du Roman’ she is translating as ‘The Preparation of the Novel’, and, indeed there are passages in her account in which the identities of the two elide and it is uncertain whose words, and whose ideas, are on the page. Briggs sees the role of the translator as to *identify* with the author, rather than to supplant, or to be compared with, the author. The translator “undertakes to write translations not as a means to demonstrate their expertise but precisely because they know, without knowing exactly how or in what particular ways, doing so will be productive of *new* knowledge.” The constraint of the extant text liberates the translator-as-writer from the perils of self-expression and the impediments to discovery imposed by one’s identity. To express oneself lies within one’s capabilities and is a fundamentally reductive procedure. Only constraints will lead a writer beyond safe territory, and the constraints of an extant text can lead a translator-as-writer to new discoveries about language and about the limits and potentials of praxis of both writing and reading. “Don’t all writing projects,” Briggs asks, “involve working within existing rules and parameters that guide and to some degree direct what is possible to write? All writing is to some greater or lesser extent determined by constraints. The constraints on how far I can go, the limits on my making-up, the limits on doing what I want, are what interest me. They interest me because they instruct me, leading me (forcing me?) outside of what I might already be capable of writing, knowing and imagining. I don’t want to just make something up.” An effective way to make without making up is to remake. Praxis without ego reveals much about the mechanisms of personhood, so to call it, readership, authorship, and about the mechanisms of language that give rise to these roles of praxis. A translation is a product of its time can be replaced by new translations, more in keeping with the times of new readers, perhaps, in the way that the original cannot be so renewed or updated. An original text goes on being the original text. For someone to write it again in the original language is generally considered a crime against the text (except perhaps when the rewriting is so different from the original as to constitute a commentary or a riff upon it). A translation can be remade without affecting the authenticity of the work. Does this suggest that translation is more akin to reading than to writing (as in the generation of texts), in that the text is fulfilled in an interchangeable other? Is all reading in effect, in any case, a translation from the language of the text’s composition to the language of the reader’s comprehension, even though those languages are ostensibly the *same* language? Is an interlingual translator nothing more (and nothing less) than a textual vector, broadening the scope of the writing/reading project performed by persons whose intimacy is entirely inherent in this vector? In this respect, translation should be considered to take its risks on criteria of soundness and comeliness, rather than on criteria of exactitude or goodness. “My work is fascinating and derivative and determining and necessary and suspect,” says Briggs. “It is everywhere taken for granted and then every so often [inappropriately] singled out to be piously congratulated or taken apart.”